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Americans Still More Trusting of Local Than State Government

Americans Still More Trusting of Local Than State Government

Story Highlights

  • 72% have a great deal/fair amount of confidence in local government
  • 63% express trust in government at the state level
  • Democrats more confident in state/local governments since 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans continue the decade-long trend of being more trusting of their local government than of their state government. Currently, 72% of U.S. adults say they have a "great deal" or a "fair amount" of trust in their local government, compared with 63% who say the same about their state government.

Line Graph. Over the last decade, Americans have consistently had more trust in local than state governments.

The latest ratings, recorded in Gallup's annual Governance poll, conducted Sept. 4-12, mark a continuation of fairly high levels of trust for local governments -- a trend that has varied little over the past two decades.

Confidence in local government was slightly lower in the 1970s, when Gallup recorded its lowest marks -- 63% in the first poll in 1972 and 65% in 1976. But confidence in local government improved when Americans were asked about it again in the 1990s -- peaking at its highest rating of 77% in 1998. Since 2001, this figure has remained within a narrow range of 68% to 74%.

Meanwhile, confidence in state government has varied more, from a high of 80% in 1998 when the economy was robust and unemployment was low, to a low of 51% in 2009, as states across the country struggled to balance budgets amid the Great Recession. The latest measure of 63% matches the previous year's figure and is similar to the historical average of 64% for this measure since 1972. Confidence in state governments has improved from the immediate recession-related drop, but has not recovered back to pre-recession levels.

Democrats' Trust in Local Government Reaches Highest Point Since 2001

Locked out of power at the federal level, Democrats have placed greater than usual trust in state and local government in the past two years. Currently, 78% of Democrats say they have confidence in local government -- up from 66% in 2016, and the highest level of trust they have recorded on this measure from 2001 to today. Meanwhile, Republicans' (74%) and independents' (67%) confidence in local government has remained fairly stable since the 2016 election.

Today's pattern contrasts with the historical trend, in which Republicans have had slightly higher confidence than Democrats and independents in local government -- perhaps reflecting the GOP's general view that smaller government is better. On average since 2001, 74% of Republicans have had confidence in local government compared with 70% of Democrats and 68% of independents.

Line graph. Democrats’ trust in local government has increased while Republicans’ and independents’ has remained flat.

Confidence in State Government Also Increased Among Democrats

Democrats have also become more confident in their state governments since 2016, with 67% now expressing trust in the government of their state -- a nine-point increase since 2016 and their highest level of confidence on this measure since 2008.

Similar to the trend in local government trust, Republicans' (66%) and independents' (59%) confidence in state government hasn't changed much since the 2016 election.

Since 2001, however, Republicans (66%) have had higher confidence in state government than Democrats (60%) and independents (59%). The GOP was particularly confident in state government during Democratic President Barack Obama's second term in office, as the Republican Party made huge gains in the number of governor's mansions and state legislative seats it occupied after the 2010 and 2014 elections. Since then, Republicans' trust in state government has declined slightly.

Line graph. Democrats’ confidence in local government has increased, while Republicans’ and independents’ has held the same.

Bottom Line

Americans' trust in local government has remained stable over the past decade while their trust in state government and other institutions associated with the federal government declined and has yet to fully recover.

Democrats have focused on local and state contests in the time since Republican President Donald Trump's election -- often framing these races as a referendum on the president. And they have had some important wins at the state level, with last year's Virginia and New Jersey gubernatorial elections marking key victories. The party is poised to pick up more governor seats in the 2018 midterm elections based on the most recent pre-election polling.

Democrats, disappointed with federal action on issues like gun control and climate change, have also turned to their mayors and governors to pick up the slack. In response to Trump's withdrawing from the Paris Agreement, for example, a group of Democratic governors created a series of initiatives on sustainability and renewable energy to fill the void left by a change in direction at the federal level.

View complete question responses and trends.

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